In this Section:
7. Face-to-Face Meetings
Vote with Your Feet. A survey of congressional staff conducted by the nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation recently found that legislative staff rate in-person meetings with a constituent as the most influential means of persuading an undecided member of Congress. While it requires considerably more effort than an email or phone call, a visit to your legislator’s office, either in the district or in Washington, D.C., is the single most effective means of grassroots advocacy. ASCRS holds an annual “Fly-In” in conjunction with the Alliance of Specialty Medicine that brings physicians to Capitol Hill to learn about current legislative issues and meet with members of Congress. Legislators respect and appreciate the effort you put in to meet with them.
Get on the Calendar. Congressional schedules are packed. Be sure to provide plenty of time to schedule an appointment with your legislator. Send a short, but formal, letter or email to the legislator’s scheduler (there may be a link to do this on his or her website) that indicates you:
- Are a constituent. Provide a home address.
- Would like to meet to discuss certain issues. Provide a brief description of the issues.
- Are available to meet on the following days. Provide a few options for the scheduler.
Be prepared to follow-up with a phone call if you have not had a response in at least a week. Once you have set an appointment, please notify ASCRS, and we can provide you with issue information. If you plan to meet your legislator in Washington, D.C., let ASCRS know, and we can assist you to schedule the meeting.
Know Before You Go. A few minutes of preparation will help you have a successful meeting.
- If you have not done the required research on your legislator mentioned in Chapter 5, do so now.
- Pay particular attention to any information about the legislator and his or her position on the issue you plan to discuss.
- Feel free to contact ASCRS for issue information or assistance researching a legislator’s voting record.
- Plan out what you will say to the legislator. Use the tips for personalizing your message and incorporating an “ask” detailed in Chapter 6.
- Let the legislator know how this particular issue affects you and your patients.
- Be sure to look up directions to the meeting site and leave plenty of travel time. Your meeting will be more successful if you are not flustered from being late or lost!
Nobody Does it Without Help. A common complaint from grassroots advocates in any field is that instead of meeting with the legislator him or herself, they often only get to meet with someone from the legislative staff. But a staff meeting could be a blessing in disguise! Oftentimes an office holder has such a packed schedule that meetings can last only about five minutes, and they may not have in-depth knowledge on every subject. Legislators rely on individual staff members to be experts on particular issues. Staff are responsible for research and advising the legislator and can spend time on a more substantive conversation. Staff draft legislative language, put together committee hearings and are usually the last person a legislator speaks to before voting. Legislators hire individuals they trust, so a staffer can be a powerful ally to the advocate.
After your meeting, please report back to ASCRS through the Legislator Interaction Form. Send a thank you note to the legislator and be sure to restate your position on the issue succinctly.
8. Developing Relationships With Your Legislators
Let’s Get Acquainted. The biggest benefit of becoming an eyeContact is the opportunity to interact with your legislators and build a relationship. A sound relationship where both advocate and politician know and trust each other is also the most effective means of achieving policy goals. Most lawmakers and their staff want to know as many of their constituents as possible.
A good way to forge a relationship with your legislators is to take advantage of any opportunity to meet. Do not let party affiliation stand in your way. Even if you would not vote for this person, he or she represents you for at least the time being; make yourself available as a trusted professional with expertise that can help him or her. Disagree respectfully. Who knows, you might just change his or her mind!
When Can We Meet? Chances are you are not as removed from your legislators as you might think. If you have done your homework and learned about your legislators, you probably came across a few instances where your interests might overlap. Your legislators might be your patients, belong to the same religious institution, alumni organization, or other civic group as you. Any of these are good opportunities to start making a connection.
If you cannot find any ways through what you already do, try to attend events the legislators publicize themselves. Most elected officials host a number of town hall-style meetings a year and other meet-and-greet functions. In addition, fundraisers can be good opportunities to meet since they are generally smaller audiences. Sign up for your legislators’ newsletters or social media channels to get current information on upcoming events.
I’ve Got No Issue With You. What if you do not have a particular issue that needs your legislator’s action? This is a great opportunity to build a relationship without pressing time demands. Congress takes regular breaks for District Work Periods (a.k.a. recess), and these present a way to meet your legislator without having to travel to Washington, D.C. District Work Periods are also good opportunities to invite legislators to tour your practice.
Use the tips listed in Chapter 7 to help you set up a meeting. Take this time to introduce yourself as a credible voice for physicians in the district and ask the legislator to continue a dialog on healthcare issues.
Keep in Touch. If you have an established relationship with any of your legislators, do not forget to check in with them from time to time and remind them you still support them and are following developments with healthcare policy. If you have provided information or help once to a legislator or a staff person, they will keep coming back to you as a trusted confidante. Be sure to tell ASCRS government relations staff if you have any existing relationships with elected officials—even if they do not represent you; it is valuable information that helps formulate strategy on Capitol Hill.
9. Developing Your Message: How to Craft the Most Effective Communications
Rising Above the Chatter. Oftentimes in advocacy, the toughest competition comes not from a direct foe, but from an advocate for another issue entirely. With nearly every business or organization engaged in public advocacy, that means the average member of Congress’ mailbox and office is overflowing with requests and messages from thousands of other lobbyists and advocates.
The nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) found that due to the ease of communication provided by the internet, constituent communications to senators increased by about 548 percent and 158 percent to representatives between 2002 and 2008.
More people than ever are getting involved in advocacy. That makes it all the more important that eyeContacts also get involved and that they do so in the most effective manner—or risk getting drowned out by everyone else.
You Gathered Intel for a Reason. As noted earlier in Chapters 5 and 6, doing some research into what really makes your legislator tick can make your efforts more successful.
- Use the text ASCRS supplies as the bare bones—it answers the pertinent questions: What bill? Why?—and then build from there.
- Frame your message in the context of other national issues, district issues, or past actions and interests of the legislator.
- Share personal anecdotes to demonstrate how the issue will affect the district, your practice, or patients by either fixing an existing problem or making a negative impact.
Do not underestimate the power of staff: If you have had interaction with a particular staffer before, especially the healthcare legislative assistant, feel free to send messages directly to him or her. The last person a representative or senator usually talks to before voting is his or her aide who handles the issue. If you make a good case to the staffer, you have someone the legislator knows and trusts on your side.
Do not forget to follow-up; make sure your legislators do what you have asked, and then thank them. Let them know you are not just a faceless email, but a constituent who cares about what your legislators do.
The Medium is the Message. Generally, ASCRS will alert eyeContacts to the best way to communicate on a particular issue, but we cannot always have eyes and ears in each district. Once you have built a relationship and gotten to know your legislators, you will probably learn the best way to get their attention.
For example, does your senator like to tweet? Boil down your ask to 140 characters and send it to him that way. Be creative and find out the best way for both you and your legislators. And do not forget to share with ASCRS and your peers if you come up with a real winner; today’s innovation is tomorrow’s standard operating procedure.
10. Hosting an Event
You’re the Host. Since legislators need to meet so many of their constituents, they often rely on larger public gatherings to help make contacts. Both established organizations and individuals in the district play an important part in planning and hosting those events. If you have time to devote to it, hosting your own event, such as a practice tour, can be a rewarding experience for both you and the legislator. You have the opportunity to have your issues take center stage as well as the gratitude of the lawmaker for your help, and the lawmaker gets the publicity he or she needs.
It’s Your Party, Do What You Want. While hosting an event can take some time and energy on your part, the advantage is that you can choose the type of event that makes you the most comfortable. If you are unsure of what event would work best, contact ASCRS for assistance or the district staff of your representative or senator; they will know what works well in your area. Use the tips from Chapter 7 for scheduling a face-to-face meeting to invite your legislator to the event. Outlined below are a few format ideas to get you started:
- Practice or ASC Tour – Hosting your representative or senator at your practice or ambulatory surgery center (ASC) is a great way to get to know your legislator on your “home turf.” Legislators are interested in what goes on in their districts—take this opportunity to show them what you and all the people on your team do on a daily basis and show the difference you make in the community’s health. Be sure to highlight the efforts of everyone on your staff. Lawmakers may not immediately recognize the variety of careers represented in the average ophthalmology practice or surgery center. Take the opportunity to “show off” any new technology or innovative procedures; legislators like to brag about what makes their districts so special. Be sure to contact ASCRS government relations staff as you plan the event, as we can provide guidance and issue materials.
- Meet-and-Greet – An informal event with five to 15 people in attendance that could take place at your practice. This type of gathering allows for a great deal of personal interaction with the legislator. Plan for the discussion to center around a few broad topics. A meet-and-greet is a good option for a small group of local physicians, neighborhoods, and religious groups. Time of day is flexible, so try to work around the legislator’s schedule. Coffee and light snacks are always appreciated by attendees giving up their time.
- Issue Forum – If you want to reach a larger group of people and ensure an in-depth discussion of the issues, a forum or debate is a good option. Many community organizations such as the Rotary Club, the League of Women Voters, or professional societies have regular meetings where attendees expect substantive programs. If you are a member of such an organization, volunteer to arrange for your legislator to speak at an upcoming meeting. If you do not have those types of connections, either look for a group to partner with, or commit to bringing a group of your colleagues together for the occasion. If you plan on inviting an incumbent and a challenger candidate, make sure both campaigns agree to the rules and format well ahead of the event.
- Fundraisers – During the campaign season, candidates rely on contributions to pay for advertising and voter outreach. If you have established a good relationship with your legislator, offer to host a fundraiser. These can range from five to 500 people, take place at private homes or in public areas—the choice is up to you. Work with your legislator’s campaign committee to determine the best format option. Be sure to establish with them who is responsible for inviting attendees, collecting the money, and supplying food and drink. ASCRS staff are available to assist you in planning fundraisers; be sure to contact government relations for help. In addition, ASCRS often makes an eyePAC donation toward the event.
A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words. Do not forget to take pictures if you host any of the above events!
- Share them with the legislator when you send your thank you.
- Promise to put them where your fellow physicians or community members will see them. You can share them on social media, include them in local newsletters, or find what works best for you.
- Be sure to send them to ASCRS so we can publish the pictures in Washington Watch Weekly.
11. Getting Involved in Political Campaigns
I Scratch Your Back, You Scratch Mine. Getting elected to any public office is an enormous, and expensive, undertaking for any candidate. Legislators rely not only on cash donations, but also many volunteers to help with the campaign. Giving a few hours to help your favorite candidate is a rewarding experience for you and will likely earn you a great deal of gratitude from the legislator. He or she is not likely to forget your efforts when you come back later with an issue affecting your profession. If you are unsure of how best to get involved, contact ASCRS government relations for guidance.